Friday, November 12, 2010

PDE Ramayana: Jatayu and Ravana

Reading Guide. The mighty bird Jatayu, who has been watching over the exiles in the forest, does battle with Ravana, trying desperately to save Sita. Meanwhile, as Ravana carries Sita off into the sky, she drops her jewelry as tokens for Rama to find, showing which way to go. The god Brahma rejoices when he sees that all is going according to the cosmic plan to destroy Ravana by means of a human avatar: Rama.

Image: If you count Ravana's heads in the illustration below, you will see that he has nine human heads and one donkey head. This is a frequent motif in Ravana artwork; you can also see depictions of Ravana with ten heads plus an additional donkey head. Symbolically speaking, Ravana possesses knowledge in abundance, but he still acts foolishly.

SourceMyths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914). [400 words]

Ravana and Sita | 36. Jatayu and Ravana | Sita in Lanka

But Ravana's yellow eyes grew red with anger, and the peaceful face changed, and he took his own horrid shape, ten-faced and twenty-armed; he seized that gentle thing by the hair and limbs, and sprang into his golden ass-drawn car, and rose up into the sky.

But she cried aloud to Lakshmana and to Rama. "And O thou forest and flowery trees," she cried, "and thou Godavari, and woodland deities, and deer, and birds, I conjure you to tell my lord that Ravana has stolen me away."

Then she saw the great vulture Jatayu on a tree and prayed him for help; he woke from sleep and, seeing Ravana and Sita, spoke soft words to the rakshasa, advising him to leave his evil course. Jatayu warned him that Rama would surely avenge the wrong with death, "and while I live, thou shalt not take away the virtuous Sita, but I will fight with thee and fling thee from thy car."

Then Ravan, with angry eyes, sprang upon Jatayu, and there was a deadly battle in the sky; many weapons he showered on Jatayu, while the king of birds wounded Ravana with beak and talons. So many arrows pierced Jatayu that he seemed like a bird half hidden in a nest, but he broke with his feet two bows of Ravana's and destroyed the sky-faring car, so that Ravana fell down on to the earth with Sita on his lap.

But Jatayu by then was weary, and Ravana sprang up again and fell upon him, and with a dagger cut away his wings, so that he fell down at the point of death. Sita sprang to her friend and clasped him with her arms, but he lay motionless and silent like an extinguished forest fire.

Then Ravana seized her again and went his way across the sky. Against the body of the rakshasa she shone like golden lightning amidst heavy clouds, or a cloth of gold upon a sable elephant. All nature grieved for her: the lotus-flowers faded, the sun grew dark, the mountains wept in waterfalls and lifted up their summits like arms, the woodland deities were terrified, the young deer shed tears, and every creature lamented.

But Brahma, seeing Sita carried away, rejoiced and said, "Our work is accomplished now," foreseeing Ravana's death. The hermits were glad and sorry at once: sorry for Sita and glad that Ravana must die.

Now, as they drove through the sky in such a fashion, Sita saw five great monkeys on a mountain-top, and to them she cast down her jewels and her golden veil, unobserved of Ravana, as a token for Rama.

Ravana and Sita | Jatayu and Ravana | Sita in Lanka

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